Monthly Archives: April 2014

Winning The Lottery

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were at a trivia night, a fundraiser for a local church. Our group lost the overall competition pretty handily, but we managed to score a 4-way tie for first in one of the other mini games. It was decided that each group would send a representative to the front of the room and draw a card from a deck, highest card wins. I was chosen from my group, walked up to the front, and promptly drew the ace of spades, winning gift cards for everyone in my team.

The best part of this is that I never win anything. When it comes to raffles, drawings, or anything that has an element of luck to it, I generally don’t win. That’s also why I hate playing Yahtzee and poker. Full disclosure: I should point out some amazing luck I’ve had lately:

– I passed my first neurology exam by 1.3% I’m happy with that 🙂

– While running last week, my phone fell out of my pocket and landed on the only six inches of grass in a park that was otherwise mud puddles or soggy gravel (it’s been raining a lot).

None of this compares to the luckiest moment of my life: when I was born. The moment I was born I effectively won the lottery. By being born in a middle class family, I became statistically more likely to achieve higher levels of education and income. By being born in America, I became a citizen of a country that values freedom and expression. By being born in the 20th century, I am able to enjoy modern luxuries like air conditioning, automobiles, indoor plumbing, and the internet. My life at this instant is more comfortable than the lives of kings and rulers from history.

No AC, way too many clothes.

Several weeks ago we had a required lecture, which I diligently attended. It wasn’t so much of a lecture as it was a “in-class exercise” where we played a game called Oppression Monopoly, invented by someone at Harvard. It’s Monopoly with four players, each with the following rules

Player 1: Plays normal monopoly

Player 2: Starts with half the normal money. Moves half the distance rolled. Starts with a railroad, but can’t buy any property valued at more than $100. Must pay double any time he lands on another players property. If he rolls more than a seven, he must go to jail.

Player 3: Starts with the cheap properties (the brown ones) and half the normal amount of money. Most of the rules above applied to him as well.

Player 4: Starts with double the normal amount of money and all of the green properties. Moves double the roll, collects double when passing go. Must pay double taxes, and has 4 get out jail free cards at the start.

To further emphasize the direction this game was going, our instructor asked to make sure any people of ethnicity or women didn’t end up as players 2 or 3. Awkward.

I was Player 2. Because I had no money and the board was a dangerous place, I played along with the game and purposefully spent the first 30 minutes mostly in jail. After 30 minutes the rules above were lifted and normal rules applied for everyone. Since it was now significantly harder to stay in jail, I promptly landed on park place and went bankrupt.

We then had a “group discussion” to talk about what we learned. Because my class is full of medical students, when she asked for any impressions from the group, she got an immediate “I felt crushed and marginalized by the combined weight of society attempting to repress me” from the back row.

The obvious point here is to demonstrate a simple fact. There is disparity in this country and in our city. I live in one of the most racially polarized cities in the country, and it’s a problem. A serious gap in income, healthcare, and quality of life exists, and I appreciate the effort they have taken to make us aware of it (although we are getting tired of hearing it).

I don’t appreciate the victimization that occurs in this process. Many are often quick to point out that men make more than women, or that whites tend to make more than blacks, and that somehow that is something to be ashamed of. Years from now I will be a practicing physician, hopefully making a comfortable salary and taking care of my family and community. Maybe my birth or family’s status gave me opportunities others wouldn’t have had, but I put in the work to make those opportunities a reality, in an attempt to create a better life for my family and those in my community that weren’t born with that opportunity available. That’s the way it should be.

There will always be income gaps. That’s the way our country is built. People who work hard and have great ideas will go make a gazillion dollars. My favorite headline is “the rich get richer”, as if this is bad. I like to add to it. “The rich get richer….and good for them.” As long as rich people can get richer, that opportunity still exists for everyone else, including me.

The ironic part of this is we get this talk every other week at medical school. Despite my schools best attempts at creating a diverse student body, many of us come from “privileged” backgrounds, and not all of us are white males. Most of us are at this junction of opportunity, privilege, and attempting to do our part to make those opportunities reality. That’s exactly what you do with opportunity.

The differences in these lectures comes down to motivation. If the theme of the book/lecture is informative and neutral, then we are engaged in the kind of productive conversation I would like to have. If there is intent to victimize, slander, or make accusation against some specific group, you’re just wasting everyone’s time. This isn’t a zero sum world.

I need to wrap this up and study now.

Thanks for reading.